Sunday, March 20, 2016

Soigné Seoul (Seoul, SOUTH KOREA) ★★★★☆

Last year we had arguably the best meal ever in Seoul courtesy of Soigné's tasting menu so I was eager for a repeat performance this afternoon. There wasn't a lot of change since our last visit. Soigné is still without a Michelin star, at least not until the Michelin Guide for Seoul debuts in the second half of 2016 but they managed to find themselves on "La Liste", the world's top 1,000 restaurants published by the French Foreign Ministry. They made it within a couples of inches of a hair in the 937th place.

The only significant change seemed to come in the food menu as the tasting menu with the "fish and meat" option is no longer there so we were left with just the business lunch menu with "fish or meat" option. That was slightly disappointing.

Our lunch started the same way we did last time with an array of amuse bouche and the first nibble was a familiar one - scallion with parmesan cheese. The scallion wasn't as over-powering as one would expect and it was nicely matched with a dash of parmesan cheese cream on the side.

That was followed by snapper wrapping around some radish and seaweed in cucumber oil. A very refreshing one for the palates.

Next up, crispy squid chip with squid cubes, paprika sauce and peppers. The chip was crisp and full of squid flavors but I was expecting a little more from the paprika and peppers.

Chef Jun Lee loves to mix a bit of fruit into his amuse bouche. Last time we had a dish compromising of contrasting textures of grapes handed to us and it was no different this time around with this small nibble of kumquat, chocolate and lemon zest. It looked good on paper but the shaved chocolate had very little flavors to it and as a result, didn't do much to bring out the best from the kumquat.

Lastly, chilled eggplant with buckwheat and chive rounded out this interesting set of amuse bouche for us. Is it just me or does this look like a piece of sea eel to you? Well, it certainly tasted like one with the sweet soy sauce. Both the texture and temperature were very nice. I like this one.

Now that we've got amuse bouche out of the way, I was really looking forward to what's ahead for starters. Lime marinated celery with octopus, radish and quinoa, a dish labeled "sour", provided a bit of excitement for us with its presentation but the combination of flavors and textures wasn't all that exciting.

Our second and last starter was grilled Napa cabbage with sunflower seed. A single piece of cabbage as a starter? Yes, you heard it right. It came as a surprise to me at first but the cabbage did taste great especially with the sunflower seed puree which had this very nutty texture to it.

I had a hard time choosing between fish and meat but at the end of the day, I remembered what my dietitian told me before and went with some fishie instead of meat. This was a beautifully presented dish with two slabs of seared branzino on top and sitting underneath was a bed of creamy barley risotto, served with a grape pesto and garlic foam.

This is vintage Chef Lee in the sense that he was able to use a wide variety of ingredients to bring out a harmony of complicated flavors. Excellent job.

Another main dish was seared 2+ Grade Hanwoo beef tenderloin and romaine lettuce served with a special gravy. The beef was well marbled and pretty flavorful compounded by the richness of the gravy. Not bad.

We know we are in safe hands when it comes to dessert coz Executive pastry chef Inkyung Na never fails to impress. Her latest creation comprises of porcini ice-cream, black olive, sweet potato cake and Dashima seaweed; very good balance of sweetness, bitterness and savory flavors, served as the exclamation point for this wonderful meal.

We had another enjoyable afternoon at Soigné. I thought the absence of the tasting menu hurt us a little bit and so did the curious choice for starters (celery and cabbage!). The main dishes and dessert did come through for us but the overall experience was half a step down from our previous visit. Still I consider them one of my favorites in Seoul.

Food Rating: 7/10 
Price: ₩₩₩
Address: 46 Banpo-daero 39-gil, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Closest Metro Station: Express Bus Terminal
Tel: +82 2-3477-9386


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